Book Reviews

Discussion on World War 2 in general.
Tom Houlihan
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Re: Book Reviews

Postby Tom Houlihan » Thu May 30, 2013 3:19 pm

SLAUGHTERHOUSE: The Handbook of the Eastern Front
By David Glantz, et.al.

Without echoing what others have written, this book is one that will appeal to both the neophytes and the veterans of researching the Eastern Front. It is useful on several levels, and contains a wealth of information that in some cases is newly available in the English language!

While there is a considerable amount of information in the book, it really is presented in such a logical fashion that it’s quite simple to find what is needed. For example, unlike some presentations, the unit information sections are quite logically in numerical order by hierarchy, so everything is easy to locate.

Much of the information on the German forces is in point of fact available in other milieus, both on-line and printed. However, with this book you have not only a listing, but a synopsis of every German and German-Allied unit to fight on the Russian front, from Army Group down to division. For the German-Allied units, this is probably the first time the information on Rumanian, Italian, Hungarian and Finnish forces has ever been gathered together in one place.

The section on the Soviet will be very valuable to researchers and historians. Since the end of the war, very little factual information from the Soviet side has been available. Here in this volume, you will find information that has not been readily available previously. Admittedly, some of the information is limited, but that is due to original sources, not the authors of this book. It must be remembered that in the literal ‘meat-grinder’ that was the Russian Front, many of these units didn’t exist long enough to develop a pedigree. Record keeping wasn’t always as efficient as historians would desire, either.

The unit organization section I believe was handled very well. Those who study the German military especially know how many incarnations there were of each major type of unit. In this volume, the basic types of divisions are displayed, with major differentiations noted as needed. A good example of this would be the diagram for the Waffen-SS Mountain Division. The basic provisions for this type of unit are shown, followed by notes for six different Waffen-SS Mountain Divisions, explaining how they differed from the norm.

In the weapons section, the publisher has presented important information comparing German and Russian weapons side by side. Disregarding factory specifications, the information here shows things like effective range, which is much more important to the soldier and the historian. By putting the information side by side, it is easy to compare capabilities of different weapons systems from the rifle all the way up to the heaviest artillery. For vehicles, the information provided is that which is pertinent to combat. Offensive capability and defensive survivability is presented.

If one were to read this book from cover to cover, one would not know all there is to know about the war in Russia. Like any encyclopedia, this book provides a considerable amount of information, without going into exquisite detail. It will provide an excellent starting point for any research, though. I would strongly recommend this book for anyone interested in learning more about combat on the Russian Front in World War II.
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Re: Book Reviews

Postby Tom Houlihan » Thu May 30, 2013 3:19 pm

There Stood a Soldier (fiction)
by P.S. Buttar

Those who study military history at all, much less World War II specifically are at least familiar with the events surrounding the battle for the city of Stalingrad. The encirclement of 6th Army, and the subsequent surrender of its remnants are well known. For the aficionado of the battle, there are several histories and memoirs available. What Dr. Buttar has done with this book, though, is to put a very human face on things that drives home the horror and loss of war.

One of the things that most impressed me about this story was the panoply of characters that the author handled quite expertly. It’s hard enough to invent realistic characters each with their own personalities, quirks, and foibles. That Dr. Buttar was able to do this on both sides of the front, with so many people makes him deserving of very high marks.

Prit has managed to present several sides of war in his character usage. On the German side, it is quite possible to feel the privation and suffering endured by the men of 6th Army. He has brought together differing perspectives on the battle by introducing men from all levels of the division. Not only does this help the reader to understand more about the men involved, but it also helps us to follow the course of the overall battle.

On the Russian side, he has managed to present to the reader many facets of the Red Army. From the professional soldier, to the single-minded Commissar, to the most raw recruit, we meet a group of men who put a real face on what many consider the faceless mass of khaki moving across the steppe. Using the same cast of characters, Dr. Buttar is also able to trace the learning curve, as the Red Army learns to deal with the Fascist invaders.

It is the use of the homefront that I think really brings the human cost to the fore. Through well crafted letters written both in Germany and Russia, the reader is able to get a better picture of the suffering involved in war. One is reminded that it is not just the soldier that suffers in war.

Dr. Buttar has managed to make his story ring authentic by use of legitimate mannerisms and speech patterns used by both sides during the war. He has made good use of knowledgeable friends and contacts in Europe and the former Soviet Union to work a high degree of authenticity into this work. There were several times when I had to remind myself that I was reading a fictional novel, not a memoir.

I will admit to disappointment in two points. The first was that I was able to get through the book as quickly as I did. The other, I can’t disclose here, as it would impact on your enjoyment of the book.

I would strongly encourage anyone with even mild interest in the subject matter to read this book. It will give you a new perspective on this battle, the men who fought on both sides, and the people who waited for them at home.
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Re: Book Reviews

Postby Tom Houlihan » Thu May 30, 2013 3:19 pm

Odyssey of a Philippine Scout: Fighting, Escaping, and Evading the Japanese, 1941-1944
by Arthur Kendall Whitehead, 26th Cavalry Regiment, Philippine Scouts

In a nutshell, this is the story of a young cavalry officer who escapes from captivity shortly after the surrender of US forces to the Japanese, and his trek across the Philippine archipelago returning to US command. Although there are some descriptions of combat, this is not the standard war story.

The book is broken down into four parts. These are Before the War, The Japanese Invade, Derelicts, and The Long Sail. These four parts are further broken down into 41 chapters of varying lengths. Before the text, there are six maps. After the epilog, there is a short photo section, with some photos from the author’s collection and others taken from the American Historical Collection.

The book starts with the author sailing from San Francisco, headed for his new command. The first chapter, only a page and a half, takes him across the Pacific to Luzon. The next nine chapters are extremely informative. The author explains the Philippine Scouts, while giving an interesting view of life as an officer in the pre-war Philippines. By relating his experiences off-post, both on and off duty, one also gets an interesting glimpse of life in the Philippines in general. He also manages to give a short history lesson, as far as the background of the peoples that inhabit the many islands in the region.

As everywhere else where US forces served, everything changed on 8 December 1941 for the men of the Philippine Scouts. Whitehead manages to convey the surprise, and the lack of preparation for what came when the Japanese attacked. The confusion present on that day is readily apparent, as no one seemed to really know what was going on. Whether it was lack of communications, outdated weapons, or inadequate supply, the author relates all of what was going on as the Japanese assault continued. However, through it all, the Scouts continued to fight the enemy, doing what they could to hamper his advance. By the end of December, though, the author was struggling to rejoin organized US forces.

The surrender of US forces came as a shock to most of the men. It is interesting to read first hand accounts of this event. Many people will not realize that there was good reason to surrender, and not “run to the hills” after the men received this order. Military law dictated that anyone who refused the order to surrender became an outlaw immediately. However, the author realized that once he followed his last order and surrendered, his next duty was in fact to escape. By following this somewhat convoluted logic, he and his comrades complied with military law, although such niceties probably wouldn’t have meant much had he been recaptured.

During his trek, the author experienced much that was good and bad in an occupied country. He continually stresses that the average Filipino was always a decent person, and more than willing to provide hospitality and assistance to those who were in need. Like anywhere else, though, there were exceptions to the norm.

At one end of the spectrum, there were still aboriginal tribes who kept to themselves, and knew little more than the daily struggle for food and shelter. The author ran into these people several times during his travels, and speaks highly of them. There were also people the author dealt with that were willing to risk all they had in order to assist an American soldier. Even though there were many people that were dismayed by the lack of US response to the invasion, there were some who were more than willing to share what little they had. In between those two extremes, the author had some experiences that would dispute the conventional wisdom of an enthusiastic, organized resistance to Japanese occupation.

The occupied Philippines were just like any other occupied nation. Some Filipinos felt extreme loyalty to the US, and would do whatever was necessary to help Americans, and to hasten the day when the US came back to throw out the invaders. There were also quite a number of Filipinos who if they didn’t completely support the Japanese, were willing to work with another Asian nation to throw off “US Imperialism.” It was not easy to determine where people stood, and in quite a few cases, men didn’t find out until it was too late. However, the author managed to elude the grasp of those who were looking to turn him over to the Japanese, and luckily found supportive people to stay with while evading recapture.

As a cavalryman, Whitehead had next to no knowledge of boating or seamanship. By necessity, he gains this knowledge through experience as he found ways to travel between islands. At first, he was nothing more than baggage. With each leg of the trip, though, he gained a little more that would serve him in good stead when he and his comrades set out to reach Australia. Understanding the vagaries of local weather, geography would be crucial. In the end, it turned out to be enough, barely.

It must be pointed out that I am a consultant for The Aberjona Press, and I in fact drew the maps for this book. However, I had nothing to do with the textual matter, and never saw any of the narrative until after publication.
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Re: Book Reviews

Postby Tom Houlihan » Thu May 30, 2013 3:20 pm

INTO THE MOUNTAINS DARK: A WWII Odyssey from Harvard Crimson to Infantry Blue
by Franklin L. Gurley
* * * *
Published by The Aberjona Press, Bedford, Pennsylvania
ISBN: 0-9666389-4-8

This book is different, in that it grew out of a violation of Army regulations. The author had written for his high school paper, as well as for the Harvard Crimson university paper. When he went to combat, he maintained an unauthorized journal. He was aided by his comrades, while his superiors “turned the other way.” Thus, when he sat down decades later, he didn’t have to recall events from half a century before. His journal notes were hours, or at most a day or two old. It shows in the telling of his story.

The book is broken down into nineteen chapters, that take the author from 1939 through his participation in the Vosges Mountains as a member of the 100th Infantry Division. The first two chapters introduce the author, and provide some background to help understand him as a person. They discuss his experiences as a Boy Scout, writing for the high school paper, and sneaking into Fenway Park to watch the Red Sox play. Managing to make the grade to get into Harvard University, he also joined the track team. His coach there was Jaakko Mikkola, who had coached the Finnish Olympic teams in 1920 and 1924. However, one of the definite highlights of his time at Harvard was when he got to listen to Winston Churchill speak in September 1943.

Having been accepted to the Army’s A-12 Program. This was a commissioning program, similar to the ROTC program. Qualifying for this meant that the author spent one semester at Harvard, then was sent to Ohio University with 583 other “Army scholars” who had become part of the Army Specialized Training Program, (ASTP), also known as the “Ain’t Safe Till Peace” program. Here he was to study Basic Engineering, along with the rest of the course load. It was here that he had his first experience with anti-Semitism. The cadet appointed to the position of company commander had been born in Palestine, and this bothered some of the cadets. A couple of them went to far as to try to get the Jewish cadets moved out of the building they were billeted in. However, this attempt didn’t go anywhere.

By the end of March, 1944, the ASTP had been dissolved, and the men in it had been assigned to the infantry. The author was assigned to the 399th Infantry Regiment, and his training began. By the time it was over, he was designated as his platoon’s second scout, narrowly talking his way out of being an assistant BAR-man. The training regimen ended at the close of August 1944, and by the end of the following month, the 100th Division was entrained for the Port of Embarkation at New York.

After being welcomed to France by Axis Sally, the troops disembarked at Marseilles, and moved into a nearby encampment. It wasn’t long before they moved to the front, after a short stint as stevedores. They ended up in the High Vosges, just in time for winter. The story then goes into combat around St. Remy and La Salle, which blooded many of these men.

The men went through a couple of weeks combat in that area. What is interesting here is the detail that the author is able to go into. Drawing from his contemporary notes, he is able to vividly help the reader understand the experiences of his unit in action. The combat, waiting for combat, and even dealing with the locals, aided by his knowledge of the French language, is described in a manner that can easily bring the reader right into the foxholes with the “Century Men.” Gurley is able to describe not only the emotions the men felt, but all the physical discomfort and challenges, including mind numbing fatigue that causes a potentially serious security lapse. Even simple problems such as reloading a rifle with fingers that won’t cooperate.

The final chapters inform the readers of several other smaller actions that the men of Gurley’s regiment endured. This is the important part of the book. Not a wide-ranging story of the Alsatian Campaign, or Operation Nordwind, it is a view inside the foxholes of men in combat. The author tells his story, but he manages to do It while freely sharing the spotlight with his comrades. That is one of the things that I really liked about the book. He doesn’t simply write a book about “what I did in the war.” Here, you find more of a “how we fought our war, and I was in there too” attitude.

Here, you will find one of the best descriptions of what war was like for a bunch of men who weren’t supposed to be in the infantry. Men who should have received more training than they did. Men who when faced with the ultimate challenge, responded in the best way they knew how, and managed to carry the day.

As a disclaimer, I will state here that while I am associated with The Aberjona Press, I was not involved with the production of this book in any way.

(Reviewed by Tom Houlihan)
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Re: Book Reviews

Postby Tom Houlihan » Thu May 30, 2013 3:20 pm

SEVEN DAYS IN JANUARY: With the 6th SS-Mountain Division in Operation Nordwind
by Wolf T. Zoepf
* * * *
Published by The Aberjona Press, Bedford, Pennsylvania
ISBN 0-9666389-5-6

This is a very informative book about the history of the 6th SS-Mountain Division NORD. Although it does discuss their time in Finland, the bulk of the book focuses on Operation Nordwind, and more specifically, the battle for Wingen-sur-Moder.

The first quarter of the book is given over to the first three years of NORD’S experience, in Finland. The author draws on his own experience, as well as archival sources to relate the history before he joined the division in the summer of 1941 as an enlisted artilleryman. After graduating from an officer academy in 1943, he was assigned to the 3rd Battalion, SS-Mountain Infantry Regiment 12 “Michael Gaissmair,” as the battalion adjutant.

Combat in northern Karelia was nothing like that which was fought on the steppes to the south. There were none of the raging battles of maneuver, led by Panzers and SPWs. Instead, the men slogged through deep snow. There, sweeping maneuvers were conducted on skis, far behind the enemy front line. Still, the nature of combat in this area was much more positional than elsewhere on the eastern front. There was serious combat on their front. Soviet troops twice were able to sweep around NORD’S flank, and strike towards the rear area. Both times, though, the thrusts were stopped, and repelled. Just this part of the book was worthwhile for me, simply for the information it provided about the fighting in northern Karelia.

The focus of the book begins after the withdrawal, with OPERATION NORDWIND. This operation was launched on 1 January 1945, just two weeks after the “Battle of the Bulge.” As the battalion adjutant, the author had a very good view of the battle. He has put together a narrative of this operation that is probably be best available. He has drawn on American resources, so that he can provide glimpses of the American view as well. It provides for a well-rounded story that is very interesting to read.

From the initial insertion, on foot, we learn of mistakes that are made. There are failures of command, and plain errors that impact greatly on the operation. The mission of the Nord men was to take the town of Wingen-sur-Moder, and the bridge there. The objective was to form a bridgehead to allow mechanized units to break out into the Alsation Plain. Although the Combat Group was successful in their mission, there was no way for higher headquarters to give them the support they needed to exploit their success.

The operation only lasted a week for the author, as he was captured by the Americans pulling out of the town. Until his capture, however, he is able to tell a riveting tale of what went on in and around Wingen. He tells of bravery and valor on both sides. He tells of the joy the men experienced at something as simple as capturing a stock of American underwear. He talks about eating captured American food stores. One of the things that really surprised these men was the difference between fighting Americans and Russians. The Americans didn’t do much night fighting. The Germans were quick to take advantage of this, having become experts at night fighting while in Karelia.

Still, in the end, these men were outnumbered, and outgunned. They were ordered to withdraw. Again, it was a fighting withdrawal, and the author was captured moving through the American lines. Though the division regrouped, and fought on to the end of the war, this narrative ends with the author’s capture.

This book is well written, and reflects the author’s training and experience. There are only a few photos, however, due to multiple factors. There are several maps and diagrams to aid the reader in following the action. The maps that actually show Winger are detailed enough to make out individual streets and buildings that give the reader a much better view of what went on in the town.

So that none can challenge my objectivity, I must indicate that while I had nothing to do with this book, I am associated with the Aberjona Press.
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Re: Book Reviews

Postby Tom Houlihan » Thu May 30, 2013 3:21 pm

THE FINAL CRISIS: Combat in Northern Alsace January 1945
by Richard Engler
* * * *
Published by The Aberjona Press, Bedford, Pennsylvania
ISBN 0-9666389-1-3

Usually relegated to a footnote, the campaign in the Alsace was actually more important than most people realize. Several factors combined to prevent a German victory, but it was still a very near thing for the Allies. Had the Germans broken through with Operation Nordwind, the course of the war would indeed have been very different.

The Nordwind Challenge to Freedom chapter opens the story, with background answering questions about why the operation was launched, and why it began when it did. There is information provided that sets the tone for the rest of the book, explaining national attitude in America, manpower situations, and how some units came to be placed in the American lines in the Vosges. This is followed by a chapter entitled The Setting, describes the “neighborhood.” The reader is introduced to some of the villagers who inhabited the region, as well as a little of the socio-economic impact of the area. The significance of the Maginot Line fortifications is mentioned, along with an overview of the fighting during the 1940 campaign.

The third chapter is a discussion of the US Army, from prior to its involvement in the war. The US strategic views are presented, explaining the “Germany First” strategy. The author has done a good job of explaining how the Americans built there army, where the men came from, and where they went. Quite frankly, I was amazed at how short the numbers were toward the end of the war, and how Army Specialized Training Program (ASTP) was stripped of men who were supposed to be trained as specialists, but who were badly needed in infantry units.

Hopes and Illusions of Summer 1944, the fourth chapter, introduces the reader to a group of men who will surface throughout the narrative. Though names are given, and their unit is only referred to as “The Company,” their story will provide a fox-hole view of this campaign. It is here that the trials and tribulations of moving from the Air Corps to the Infantry begin to emerge. Of course, this is all minor compared to the difficulties of moving from Stateside to the front lines, especially with minimal training.

Misfortunes of the Fall gives the reader more information regarding the Allied situation after the Arnhem incident, leading up to Nordwind. Here again, the home front is visited, letting the reader see where the nations thoughts were. Those thoughts were far from the southern corner of France. Still, the Allies were pushing the German lines back. The next chapter refreshes the reader on what is going on in Germany, the faith the German people still had in Hitler, even while Himmler is creating the Volks Armee, essentially a Party Army. Still, we follow Seventh Army, and “The Company,” as they draw closer to NORDWIND.

Vistas of Nordwind is a short chapter, consisting of a discussion of German plans, American deployment, and the terrain they would be fighting on. It is Chapter 8 that the campaign really begins. The German attacks are described, as are the units that are hit by these attacks. An interesting part of this campaign is the political battle fought with General De Gaulle over Strasbourg. Militarily, it was looking as if evacuating was a sound idea. Politically, De Gaulle would not countenance such an action. Had the order been given to pull back from that city, there may well have been a small mutiny within the French forces, whom De Gaulle was prepared to order into the city on their own.

The fighting in the Vosges region was fierce. The following chapters have a well-balanced way of showing what went on at different levels during the campaign. Decisions made at SHAEF are just as important to this book as Corps or Division level decisions. “The Company” provides insight into the ground level action, allowing the reader to dig in, and see the enemy across a field. The battle was certainly not one-sided, as seen when the Americans lose six battalions to the Germans near Reipertswiller. Still another pasting the Americans suffered was near Herrlisheim, when a tank battalion suffered the loss of 23 of 52 tanks in a day.

Still, the issue was close. Although the Americans held, it wasn’t always a sure bet. Tenacity and pure stubbornness, with a little luck, allowed the Americans to hold their lines. With a breakout prevented, the Germans could do nothing now but attempt to hold back the Allied onslaught. In this, they ultimately failed.

A lesson had hit home, though. More units were shipped from the States to Europe. Rear area units were combed through, and non-essential personnel were handed rifles and sent to the front lines. Although the German was retreating, he wasn’t beaten yet. He was still a formidable foe.

There are no photographs in this book. There are a number of sketches, as well as maps. The book is well footnoted, showing the research that allows the author to literally tell the story from the ground up.

This book is an important read. Still, it is my duty to point out that although I am objective as possible, I am associated with this publisher, even though I had no involvement in the production of this book.
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Re: Book Reviews

Postby Tom Houlihan » Thu May 30, 2013 3:21 pm

SLEDGEHAMMERS: Strengths and Flaws of Tiger Tank Battalions in World War II
* * * *
Christopher W. Wilbeck
Published by The Aberjona Press, Bedford Pennsylvania
ISBN -0917650-2-2

This book is not a battle history, although it does describe several battles involving the Tigers. Instead, the book focuses more on German armor doctrine, and how the Tigers, both the Tiger I and the later Tiger II, were supposed to have been incorporated into it.

The first two chapters cover heavy tank battalions in general. Background and essays on these battalions, from countries other than Germany are discussed. Also, so the reader can better understand the author’s approach, he explains a little about how he wrote the book, how to overcome misconceptions, and understand different levels of warfare. This is followed in Chapter 2 by an actual introduction to the Heavy Tank Battalion. Subjects such as doctrine, organization, equipment and personnel, and tactics are discussed here.

The rest of the story has been broken down by the author not by calendar or campaign, but more by growth and development of the Heavy Tank Battalions. He begins with Army Group North’s Tigers, moves to Tunisia, the back to Russia with Army Group Don. It was these campaigns that helped mold the Tiger battalions. It is easy to see how different commanders could have such an impact on the effectiveness of this weapons system. This chapter closes with changes incorporated leading up to and including the battle of Kursk.

The next chapter deals with the “Strategic Defensive,” and the Tigers seem to be moving backwards more than forwards here. It is during these retreats that so many Tigers were lost, when they were unable to be recovered by the maintenance platoons. In Italy, we also find what an important factor terrain is, when the Tiger crews found out how debilitating winding mountain roads were to their mounts. The failure to develop adequate recovery equipment to handle the weight of the Tiger is one of the contributing factors to the number of losses.

The last year of the war goes into battles where a small number of Tigers was able to inflict great losses on their enemies, ultimately to no avail. After a look at Operation Bagration, the reader once again goes back to Heavy Tank Battalion 502, and their actions around Dünaburg. Examinations of Tiger combat in Normandy and Poland rounds out this chapter.

The last chapter of combat looks at “The Final Battles,” battles that most of us have read about. Hungary, WACHT AM RHEIN, and the Vistula, are examined from the Tiger perspective.

The final chapter, entitled “Assessment and Conclusion” goes well into just that. This is almost the whole point of the book. Did the Tigers accomplish their missions? Did commanders follow doctrine, or where Tigers used merely to shore up morale? A very interesting tool the author uses here is statistics. Charts on Tiger kill ratios and losses are rather interesting.

There are two other parts of this book that will be of interest to anyone interested in WWII armor. One is an analysis of the heavy tank doctrines of the USSR, UK, US, and France. The other consists of the Forward and Epilogue. The forward is written by one of the most well-known Tiger commanders, Otto Carius. Reading his words is a very good way to start this book. At the other end, the epilogue contains writings from two Tiger killers, a Russian and an American.

The book contains a number of photographs of some of the major tank types discussed in the book. Over thirty maps aid the reader in following the various battles.

While I have made every effort to be objective in this review, it is only fair to point out that I am personally associated with the publisher, and that I made the maps for this book. When I began to work on the maps, I had the unedited version of the manuscript, but I was impressed with it even then.
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Re: Book Reviews

Postby Tom Houlihan » Thu May 30, 2013 3:21 pm

Heroes or Traitors: The German Replacement Army, the July Plot, and Adolf Hitler
* * * *
By Walter S. Dunn, Jr.
Published by Praeger, Westport Connecticut
ISBN: 0-275-97715-3

This book is not exciting, unless one gets excited researching numbers. However, it does provide food for thought, in that the author explains how a handful of men in key places managed to prevent reinforcements from reaching the front lines during critical times, thus managing to shorten the war.

Well researched, this volume starts by explaining the workings of the German Replacement Army, how the system worked at the divisional level. This is accomplished by explaining the replacement system as it developed from that used during WWI. The author explains how recruits are incorporated, as well as convalescents waiting for their return to duty. Also discussed is the ‘waves’ of divisions were formed during the course of the war.

The remainder of the book breaks down the war into key periods. These are 2-43 to 6-43, 6-43 to 2-44, 2-44 to 6-44, then the two separate catastrophes in France, and the East. I will not go into separate discussion on each of these periods. Essentially, the author describes the machinations of the plotters, and how in the face of Führer decrees, they managed to manipulate the numbers of men throughout the replacement army, and keep them from the front.

One of the key goals of this manipulation was the July Plot. While Operation Valkyrie is not a key here, it is interesting to read how the plotters not only managed to keep what amounted to their own army, but how they intended to use these forces. While it does not go into great detail of the Plot, it would make good collateral reading for those studying the Plot.

This book is not exciting in the manner of a battle narrative. It is, however, very informative. It includes several tables throughout that help to understand the text. I will admit to having to go back a few times to re-read certain sections. One problem that I found is that there are often so many numbers in a paragraph, (divisional designations, numbers of men, numbers of divisions, etc.), that I got confused.

After reading this book, and the author’s conclusions, I will agree that had these men not worked so hard against Hitler, the course of the war would have gone rather differently. It would have lasted at least one more year as the author states.
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Re: Book Reviews

Postby Tom Houlihan » Thu May 30, 2013 3:22 pm

God, Honor, Fatherland: A Photo History of Panzergrenadier Division “Grossdeutschland” on the Eastern Front 1942-1944
**** ½
by Thomas McGuirl & Remy Spezzano
Published by RZM Imports, Southbury Connecticut
ISBN 0-9657584-0-0

When I first received this book in the mail, I wondered if it was worth the $75 price I paid for it. By the time I was done leafing through it, I realized that it most certainly was! It is a photo book, meaning that the reader will not find quantities of detailed accounts of the division.

Aside from the first 10 pages, that describe the development of GD, the book is essentially divided into three major sections, chronologically. Beginning with 1942, the subsections for each year focus on different aspects of the division. For example, the first part includes subsections on the Divisional HQ, armored car tactics, the StuG Brigade, and “The Race to the Lower Don.”

Within the 1943 section is a discussion on the Panzerregiment GD, tank maintenance, and education. The educational topics include the Close-Quarter Tank Destruction Course and the Feldkampfschule.

The last area includes topics such as the Flakabteilung, the Füsilierregiment, the Panzergrenadierregiment, and the Tiger Regiment. A few of the more pivotal battles are also outlined.

There are aspects of this book that will greatly appeal to historians and model builders. The first is that there are 19 short biographies scattered throughout the book, of some of the more major personalities. At the end of the book is a two-page bibliography that lists specific GD unit histories, unpublished GD documents, and dozens of general references that discuss this unit. Those that wish to learn more about this unit will find more than ample references here!

The strength of this book, however, lies in the photographs. There are 223 pages of ‘book,’ which include 285 photos. These photos range from small portrait shots, to two-page action photos. They include men from the most recent new-join, to the division commanders. In some cases, the production team managed to group photos taken at the same time into groupings, so that there are several shots of an event. What I truly appreciated was that most of the photos are captioned with not only a description of what is going on, but the names of the men in the photos! To me, that was a very nice touch.

This book is destined to become a classic visual reference for GD. It is strengthened by the help of the “many dozens of veterans, archivists, collectors, and friends” that the authors acknowledge, who “gave unstintingly and ceaselessly of their time, their memories, and their resources.”

I would recommend this book as definitely worth the investment.
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Re: Book Reviews

Postby Tom Houlihan » Thu May 30, 2013 3:22 pm

The Gestapo: A History of Hitler’s Secret Police 1933-45
* * * *
by Rupert Butler
Published by Amber Books, London, and Eurolitho in Italy
ISBN 1-904687-06-7

I found this book to be a great introduction into the Geheime Staats Polizei, or Gestapo. The author provides a good deal of background information, without going into pedantic detail.

The bulk of the text deals with the years before WWII. Though the information is somewhat brief, Mr. Butler does a pretty good job of explaining many of the factors and organizations active during the Weimar period. The importance of Göring is also explained, as is his influence on the development of the SS and police in Nazi Germany.

The next sections deal with the melding of the Gestapo into the SS, and the rise of Heydrich and Müller. With the destruction of the SA, the text goes into other “operations” that involved the Gestapo, such as Strasser’s death, the Blomberg-Fritsch Affair, and even brings in Salon Kitty. This part of the text also includes the SD operations at Gliwice/Gleiwitz and Venlo.

The last chapter before the war starts with the consolidation of the SS empire under the RSHA, and an explanation of the sections therein. This chapter also introduces the reader to the persecution of the Jews. This is done by telling about some actions, and some individuals on both sides of the campaign. With the occupation of the Sudetenland, peace ends.

The next two chapters, comprising 50 pages, try to brief the reader on many things that happened during the next six years. Social registers, the Wannsee Conference, ghettoes, Action A-B, and the Einsatzgruppen are all covered here, and more. The impact on the failure of Operation Sea Lion on the ‘need’ for the ‘final solution’ is even explained. For those readers familiar with the war, these things will be brought together in a brief overview. For those new to this subject, there is plenty of fodder provided for further research.

In illustration of its importance, there is a whole chapter devoted to “Stamping Out Resistance,” which refers to the threats Hitler felt from within the upper echelons of Nazi-dom. Most of the chapter explains the resistance operations themselves. The first one mentioned was Canaris’ plot that was driven in part by his disgust over Kristallnacht and the Fritsch-Blomberg incident. After the Hitler managed to secure Czechoslovakia without a shot fired, these plans were scrapped, but they laid the foundation for a future effort. The attempt on Hitler’s life in 1943, by placing a bomb on his aircraft is covered, as well as the White Rose movement of Sophie and Hans Scholl. Operation Valkyrie is covered, from the beginnings of the plot, through the trials and executions of the collaborators.

The final chapter discusses the end of the era, and tells about the various efforts to escape accountability. Suicides abound in this chapter, as do back-door attempts at negotiation and fleeing in fear. The International Military Tribunal is covered, as are the Eichmann and Barbie affairs, well after the war.

The appendices are rather limited, but they include a comparative rank chart, a short glossary, and explanations of uniforms and the Night and Fog decree. The bibliography is useful, especially as it lists five useful websites that will allow the reader to perform further research.

I enjoyed reading this book, and found it rather informative. Although there is no way the entire operational history of the Gestapo could be covered in such a short form, a great deal of information is presented here. I believe this book would be valuable either as background information, or introductory reading.
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Re: Book Reviews

Postby Tom Houlihan » Thu May 30, 2013 3:22 pm

SS-WIKING: The History of the Fifth SS Division 1941-45.
* * *
Written by Rupert Butler.
Published in the U.S. by Casemate, and in the U.K. by Amber Books Ltd.
ISBN 1-932033-04-1

While this is a history of SS-Wiking, it is in fact a very brief history. The author has divided this study up into eight sections.

He begins with the foundation of the unit. Part of the basis for this division dealt with the recruiting problems that plagued the SS in the early days. Most of the Germanic volunteers from outside Germany were assigned to this division. The countries represented include Holland, Belgium, Denmark, Norway, France, Sweden, Switzerland, and Luxembourg. Of course, by war’s end, other nations were represented, these were the main sources of men in the beginning.

Another key factor in this division was its commander, Felix Steiner. He had served in the Army, but had ideas that were not acceptable by the Army hierarchy. Thus, when he was put in charge of training the SS-Verfügungstruppe, he was able to implement some of his ideas, which would contribute to the performance of SS men in battle later. When given command of Wiking, he brought his same attitudes with him. This gave him the opportunity to infuse the whole division with his spirit, which segues nicely into the second section, Training.

One of the things Steiner wanted to avoid was the bloody battles of attrition he remembered from the First World War. He worked to develop the men athletically, and to foster competitive spirit in them. Sports took priority over close order drill. Combat training focused on light, mobile tactics.

The third chapter follows the SS-VT to war. In addition to the combat experienced by the regiments of the SS-VT, the book does go into discussion of the atrocities of the Einsatzgruppen, and Wiking’s association with them. In addition to relating combat, this chapter also discusses problems encountered by Wiking, including the enemy, boobytraps, climate, lack of supplies, and higher command issues.

Wiking had proven itself a force to be reckoned with, which led to some unexpected problems. Command had come to rely on the division to solve their problems, which led to heavy employment of the unit. This led to fatigue both in the men and their equipment.

The fifth chapter begins with Kursk, and ends with the encirclement at Korsun/Cherkassy. The sixth chapter starts with this encirclement. While that experience would easily fill a couple of books itself, the author does manage to give a hint of what went on there. The final combat chapter takes the division through the end of the war. From Bialystok to Warsaw, Budapest to to Vienna, Wiking was in the thick of it.

The last chapter is a collection of short biographies of major figures in Wiking. Six men are presented here. There is also an appendix which shows the division’s lineage, the commanders, rank comparisons, and an outline of the division’s war service. Also, there is a breakdown of the division’s Order of Battle circa May 1944, as well as a listing of all the Waffen-SS divisions.

Every time you turn a page, you will find at least one photograph, and/or one of the 10 maps that illustrate this book. Many of the photos are combat shots, and are quite interesting.

This isn’t a bad book, per se, but I was disappointed. While it does talk about the history of WIKING, from before it was actually formed, all the way to the end, it is far from intimate. Somehow, I expected more information from a divisional history.
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Re: Book Reviews

Postby Tom Houlihan » Thu May 30, 2013 3:23 pm

OSTFRONT: Hitler’s War on Russia 1941-1945.
* * * 1/2
Charles Winchester,
Osprey Publishing
ISBN 1 85532 711 2

This book presents a 150-page overview of the campaign in Russia. This statement is certainly not meant to take away from the work. It is a good start to learning about the eastern front.

It is broken up into ten chapters which follow the progress of the war. The first two chapters introduce the two opponents, giving outlines and backgrounds to the Wehrmacht and the Red Army. Briefly, persons and key events from both sides leading up to the war are discussed.

One chapter is devoted to the first few months of the war. The deep drives, and battles of encirclement leading to the outskirts of Moscow are explained. Also discussed are the treatment of prisoners, the “Jewish Problem,” and other atrocities, on both sides.

The next two chapters take the reader from the offensives in the Spring of 1942, through the end of that year, culminating in the destruction of Sixth Army in Stalingrad. Even though there is not much detail, the author is still able to give a good feel for what was going on, on both sides of the lines.

Chapter Six presents a comparison of the forces. More than just the numbers of men, this section also discusses production rates of armor, aircraft, and supplies. Weapons development is touched on briefly, for both sides. Lend-lease is covered, supported by a small section comparing the use of horses for mobility as opposed to the truck fleet the Soviets had. Partisans and local troops recruited by the Germans are also discussed.

The last four chapters follow the Russians into Berlin. This process starts with the battle of Kursk and the retreat to the Dnepr River. From there, the narrative shifts between each of the fronts, as the Russians continue to push the Germans back, culminating in the taking of the famous photograph atop the Reichstag.

Since this book is published by Osprey, there are 70 color illustrations culled from other publications. These encompass uniforms, vehicles, camouflage patterns and aircraft from all the major participants, even the Polish Home Army in Warsaw. There are about 180 photographs, and 10 maps that all combine to lavishly illustrate this book.

This would be a good book for someone that is not overly familiar with the Russian front. While not getting bogged down in minutiae, it does provide a good deal of information.
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Re: Book Reviews

Postby Tom Houlihan » Thu May 30, 2013 3:23 pm

The Nazi Conscience
* * * * ½
Claudia Koonz
Belknap Press, Cambridge MA
ISBN 0-674-01172-4

Koonz has done a great deal of research, determining how Nazi ideologues, supporters, and enthusiasts across the spectrum of German culture managed to change crude prejudice into ideology that was acceptable to the German people.

The book begins with explanations of “conscience,” “race,” and “people,” in order to provide a framework for understanding the rest of the book.

As this is not a history book, per se, the chapter breakdown is not as definable as a chronological study would be. Instead, the chapters break down into different approaches to ideological indoctrination, instruction, propaganda, and how the Party was able to make their ideology palatable to the German people.

Hitler is discussed as a “prophet of virtue,” and though it sounds strange, it is explained in a way that helps the reader to understand how this man was able to sway the minds of so many Germans as he came to power. His technique as an orator is analyzed, and one learns how he manipulated his speeches based on his audience, and where the Party was in its struggle.

One of the most effective weapons in the effort to sway popular attitude was the academic community. When respected scholars were able to present the public with articles that legitimized Party propaganda, people began to accept it. It is important to understand how such learned men came to believe in this ideology, and Koonz is able to present information about them explaining their backgrounds, and their approaches to this.

One of the most important concepts to the Nazis was the Volk. Although this term is often confused with ‘race,’ is actually goes well beyond that. In this context, “Volk” refers more to a ‘community’ rather than a ‘people.’ Much of the book investigates this concept and how it was manipulated to marginalize groups such as the Jews, gypsies, and other “undesirables.” A chapter is spent discussing how racism was worked into the law, legalizing the treatment of non-members of the Volk.

While many Germans agreed with at least parts of the Party’s ideological stance, there were still difficulties. While many would support it in the abstract, we found that quite a surprising number tried not to let these policies interfere with their own lives. Many Party leaders were frustrated that while they were working to remove Jews from the community, their neighbors and comrades still dealt with these people as though nothing had changed.

The last chapters deal with the racial warriors and the racial war they fought at home. Between the SA and the SS, there were two radical approaches to the racial conflict. Here, the reader is shown how these two approaches were developed. The similarities and differences between the SA and SS are discussed, and how they came about. This section helps to gain somewhat of an understanding of the men in these organizations, and what drove them.

This book is more of a sociology book than a history book. However, for the historian, it a good resource to help understand some of the events of the Third Reich era. It probably isn’t for the casual reader, but one should expect to be educated from it.
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Re: Book Reviews

Postby Tom Houlihan » Thu May 30, 2013 3:24 pm

WAFFEN-SS: Hitler’s Elite Guard at War 1939-1945
* * * *
George H. Stein
Published by Cerberus Publishing Limited, Bristol, UK
Also in America by Cornell University Press
ISBN 1 84145 100 2

This book is an update of Stein’s classic reference work on the Waffen-SS. It begins with the initial formations of the SS, and takes the reader through the end of the war. More than just a historical record, this work also discusses some of the ideological issues and political battles that plagued the Waffen-SS.

The history is broken down within the chapters, as follows:

1. The Formative Years: 1933-1939: This chapter discusses the SS-Verfügungstruppe (SS-VT) purpose, organization, selection, and training, as well as the difficulties in the relationship between the SS and the Army.

2. From Verfügungstruppe to Waffen-SS: In this chapter, the SS-VT goes to war. The problems and solutions found during the Polish campaign are analyzed before the campaign in the west. Also discussed are problems with official recognition, as well as the fights for recruits and equipment. The transition from SS-VT to Waffen-SS also takes place.

3. Toward a Military Reputation: In the third chapter, the Waffen-SS goes to war in the west. It is during these campaigns that the reputation as fearless fighters begins to develop, along with the reputation for atrocities in the field.

4. From West to East: The Development of the Waffen-SS: During the period between the fall of France, and the invasion of Russia, the Waffen-SS still had to struggle for men and equipment. This chapter goes more into the difficulties they had with the Wehrmacht. The reorganization of the Waffen-SS leading to the Russian campaign, as well as the Balkans campaigns are also discussed.

5. Some Military Consequences of an Ideology: Stein focuses on the ideological aspects of the war in this chapter, and how it affected the Waffen-SS.

6. The West European SS: Mobilisation of Foreign Nationals, I: One of the aspects of the Waffen-SS that was trumpeted after the war was the Pan-European aspect of the organization. It is in this chapter that this phenomenon is discussed. The differences between the Germanic SS and the Eastern SS units is also discussed.

7. The East European SS: Mobilisation of Foreign Nations, II: Though Himmler initially dictated strict racial standards for his SS, the fortunes of war caused him to make changes in that policy. This chapter discusses Baltic, Ukrainian, Balkan, and Ethnic Germans units formed under the auspices of the Waffen-SS. Also discussed are failed attempts to develop units such as the Indian Legion, or the British Free Corps.

8. The Waffen-SS Comes of Age: 1942-1943: This chapter pretty much brings the previous chapters together, and provides an overview of what was going on throughout the Waffen-SS in this time period.

9. To the Bitter End: The Waffen-SS and the Defence of the Third Reich, 1943-1945: Picking up where the previous chapter left off, this chapter tells of the ferocity of the fighting as the war came to a close, and Germany was defeated. Each front is discussed, as is the final fight for Berlin.

10. The Tarnished Shield: Waffen-SS Criminality: It is in this chapter that the crimes and atrocities of the SS are discussed. These range from the first concentration camps, through the death camps, murder squads, and other combat atrocities.

11. Reprise and Assessment: This chapter functions as a summary.

There is also an appendix, with added material from previous editions. Included are comparative rank tables, rank charts, lists of units, divisional insignia, and a chart of the overall SS organization. There are also a number of photos in the book that were not in previous editions.

This book is useful for both the novice, or knowledgeable reader. It has become one of the more standard references used for the Waffen-SS. Originally written before the advent of digital means of information retrieval, it has withstood the test of time for accuracy and depth.
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